Because they made a crucial error at a critical time, the New York Knicks have no room left for any more mistakes.
Indiana is back home with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinals after stealing Game 4 from the Knicks with a 118-107 victory in overtime. Now, the Pacers have a chance to close out the series on Wednesday night."We still have a game to win," coach Larry Bird said. "We're 3-1 now, but it could have been 2-2."
The Knicks thought so, too. New York was in position to tie the series, leading almost all of the fourth quarter, up by as many as eight points with just 4:58 to play and still ahead by three with 19 seconds remaining.
Needing a 3-pointer to tie, the Pacers looked for Reggie Miller, one of the best long-range shooters in the league. But Miller, who would lead all scorers with 38 points, could not shake loose with the Knicks defenders swarming at him.
"If I couldn't get a clean look on the 3, we were going to try to get a quick 2," Miller said.
So the Pacers settled for a shorter shot by Rik Smits, who had burned New York for seven baskets in the quarter and finished with 23 points. Rebounders Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley headed for the hoop as Smits missed. Now the game came down to one rebound, much the way Game 2 had in Indiana. Antonio Davis grabbed the Game 2 rebound, choking off the Knicks' last chance. This time, Chris Mullin grabbed the ball, giving the Pacers one more chance.
Mullin knew he was in 2-point territory and now Indiana was desperate for a 3. The answer, he figured, was Mark Jackson, stationed out beyond the arc to his left.
"I saw Mark and I just tried to kick it to him because he was sitting on a 3," Mullin said.
The Knicks saw Jackson, too, and ran at him. The problem there was they left Miller all by himself, spotted up for the 3 he couldn't get earlier. Jackson, who scored 16 points and had 15 assists, saw what was happening and so did Miller.
"It was a scramble situation and I think it was hard for Charles to regroup and find me," Miller said. "I was surprised that I was so wide open. I started to scream when the ball went up because I knew everyone was underneath."
For Jackson, the situation was a no-brainer.
"I was open but I'm a guy that tries to be a point guard," he said. "I've said it before. If I'm red hot and Reggie is ice cold, I'd rather him take the shot. Fortunately, whoever was guarding him, I think it was Chris Childs, ran at me and Reggie was able to get a look."
Miller couldn't believe how open he was for the tying basket with 5.1 seconds left. Neither, for that matter, could Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy.
"There's no rational explanation," he said.
For Miller's part, the wide-open shot posed some strange problems.
"Those are the worst shots to shoot, because you're so wide open," he said. "I'd rather shoot with someone running on me."
Sorry, Reggie, the Knicks were otherwise occupied.
Miller drained the shot, tying the game and it was as if he had stuck a dagger in the heart of the Knicks.
Houston, who had 19 points, 18 in the first half, missed a last-gasp shot for the Knicks and the Pacers started the overtime with a 10-0 run, the first five on two baskets by Jackson.
The rest was routine.